As we near the end of conference media days, team report dates and fall camp are rapidly inching closer and Week 1 of the college football season is on the horizon. And while there's plenty of time still for specific predictions on how the year will play out, we asked our writers to weigh in this week on a key question: Which conference will be the most improved in 2019?
Ross Dellenger: It can only go up from here for the ACC. The top of the league last year was very good, and by top, we mean Clemson. Every other team was saddled with at least three losses, and the Coastal Division winner, Pitt, finished 7–7. The ACC had just two teams finish in the top 25, and the conference won less than one-third of its non-conference games against Power 5 foes. This year, Clemson's league brothers are expected to be stronger. That goes for Florida State, Miami, North Carolina and Louisville.
Joan Niesen: This feels too easy—and like Oregon is going to ruin what I think right now is a safe conclusion. The Pac-12 has been in a rut lately, and it’s time for the conference to break out. Will the Ducks make the College Football Playoff? Probably not—but I think Larry Scott’s conference will have a team in consideration this year, and between Oregon, Washington, Utah and maybe even Stanford, it has an outside chance to finish with multiple top-10 teams, which hasn’t happened for the Pac-12 since 2014. Even multiple top-15 teams would be a feat at this point.
Tim Rohan: In this era of Saban and Swinney, the Big Ten may lack the starpower of other conferences, but it may be the deepest conference in the country. The Big Ten could place seven or eight teams in the top 25 when the season starts, and that includes two legitimate title contenders, Ohio State and Michigan. Two other regular powers, Penn State and Wisconsin, figure to be in the mix, too. But the possible emergence of Northwestern, Nebraska and Iowa is what could make the Big Ten the toughest conference in the country, top one through eight.
Scooby Axson: The ACC has nowhere to go but up, but dethroning four-time conference and reigning national champion Clemson is a little too much to ask. In terms of competition for the Tigers, there was none last year, and the league as a whole was even more pitiful against ranked and non-conference foes. Expect Florida State, Miami and Virginia to be better than they have been, with North Carolina trying to make waves with new coach Mack Brown. In college football, perception is the reality, and the ACC must be more competitive overall.
Michael Shapiro: It’s hard to say a conference with five 10-win teams last season can be better in 2019, but the SEC could see an improvement at the top of the conference with regards to College Football Playoff contention. Every non-Alabama team in the SEC finished 2018 with a least three losses, with only Georgia remaining in the national title conversation alongside the Crimson Tide after the first week of November. There could very well be multiple SEC teams in the College Football Playoff in 2019, and there are five teams that could play into January. Alabama and Georgia are perennial contenders, while LSU and Florida could enter September among the top 15 teams in the nation. Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M should continue to improve in year two, though a brutal schedule awaits. The SEC is as loaded as ever, and multiple playoff teams is very much in play.